Sibling rivalry is complicated by conflicting cultures in this realistic novel of a hearing girl and her deaf sister.
Most of 12-year-old Jade’s family can’t hear. Her parents, one set of grandparents and older sister Marla are all deaf and so belong to a world she can never truly inhabit. This hasn’t apparently caused much difficulty for Jade, but as her relationship with Marla becomes more contentious, the frustrations between them are amplified by this fundamental difference. McElfresh uses alternating first-person narration by Marla and Jade to tell the story. She works hard to give readers an authentic glimpse of deaf culture, including a subplot about a protest at Gallaudet University, along with descriptions of the girls’ experiences at home, on the softball field and on a brief but momentous family vacation. Brilliantly, Marla’s sections are written as if they are transcriptions of American Sign Language. (Unfortunately this interesting and creative approach could backfire, as some readers may not recognize this and will assume that Marla is incapable of using standard English grammar.) The potential impact and appeal are diluted by underdeveloped secondary characters and a plot that too often feels contrived. McElfresh’s intentions are clearly positive, as is the message she conveys; unfortunately her purpose is so obvious that it may threaten its ability to reach and enlighten young readers.
Nevertheless, this stands as a valuable inside peek into a marginalized culture. (Fiction. 10-14)